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Cinquecento And Ottocento

Megan Kaes Long (Oberlin College & Conservatory), Chair

A Female Pastoral: Northern Italian Ballads as a Topic in Primo Ottocento Opera

Carlos A. Perez Tabares (University of Michigan)


Scholars like Roberto Leydi (2003) suggest that the presumption of Italian folk influences in primo ottocento opera is risky, to say the least. Other critics, however, have historically identified similarities between folk genres and opera numbers. Francesco Degrada (1977), for example, mentions how parallel thirds sung by women’s choirs, pervasive in Bellini’s La Sonnambula, remind him of Northern Italian folk music. What he calls “typically Po-valley” thirds are described by Tullia Magrini (1995) and Ignazio Macchiarella (2001) as a hallmark of Northern Italian ballads, which were traditionally sung by women. This parallelism seems even more striking considering Emilia Branca’s 1882 account of Bellini’s trip to Moltrasio before writing La Sonnambula, in which he allegedly collected themes sung by peasant women. In light of these and other Italian commentators’ recognition of their soundscapes in opera (see also Scherillo 1882; Pastura 1959; and Confalonieri 1968), I propose that Northern Italian ballads, in particular, may be identified as a topic—a musical style or genre used outside of its original context (Mirka 2014). I discuss how this topic may have been consolidated as a byproduct of the wane of pastoralism in nineteenth-century Italy, within what Denis Cosgrove (1985) calls “landscape ideology.” Drawing from Emanuele Senici’s (2005) research, I argue that gender relations added to the meaning of ballads in opera. Finally, I examine the musical features of the ballad topic, including what, after Magrini (1995), I call the magrini closing schema, its placement within the lyric form, and its signification.

Willaert’s Contrapuntal Strategies

Peter Schubert (McGill University)


Willaert’s counterpoint in the Musica Nova has been described as “elusive” because it “eschews” clear-cut imitation, cadences, and contrasts of texture (Fromson 2001; also Feldman 1995). I argue that to articulate structure, Willaert substitutes five contrasting contrapuntal procedures. These are progressively linked soggetti, mixed soggetti, contrapunto fugato, repeating blocks, and quodlibet, which I will illustrate with an analysis of “Io mi rovolgo” from Musica Nova (1559). Unlike most madrigal studies, which begin and end with text-music relations, my discussion is grounded in the notion that music is a semiotic system independent of any sung text (Agawu 1992; Monelle 2010), and that the musical features of Willaert’s madrigal music may fruitfully be discussed before referring to its marriage with the text. The musical examples in Renaissance counterpoint treatises are always given without text, implying that music has its own laws that continue to obtain even as the composer sets a text. They create a world parallel to that of the text. 

Supplementary Material(s)